Sewing: buttonholes


Buttonholes. Does anything drive a tailor or seamstress (seamster?) as crazy as a buttonhole? Especially if you dont have the special foot attachement for your sewing machine? I don’t think so.

My first button ‘hole’…. HA!

Only a zipper comes close to the level of annoyance that a buttonhole possesses. A button hole is literally a hole in the fabric.  If a button hole hasn’t been made properly, the fabric will unravel and shred quite easily. Before long, the bag will come completely undone. Bye-bye bag.

And yet, the other challenge of button holes is that they are the last part of the project that must be done.  They’re the most challenging work, and the most visible, and the most susceptible to inaccuracy, and the most likely errors to be noticed, and the most likely errors to result in the critical failure of the whole finished object.

That is to say, adding a button hole to an amateur project is most likely to make the project either…

  •  A) amateur, or
  • B) ruined.

My fourth and fifth …

So of course it was time for me to tackle the challenge of a button hole. Fortunately, I had a ready-made project that needed button holes: the Komebukuro or Japanese rice bag made of eight squares of fabric.

A Komebukuro has eight button holes. Technically, they’re not button holes. There are two holes in each of the side walls of a Komebukuro, and a cord is woven in and out of them to pull the bag shut.  So, the beginner looks upon these eight holes as eight perfect opportunities to ruin the whole bag, and puts in an internal drawstring, instead.

Or… one can look at it as eight opportunities to master another aspect of one’s craft.

My seventh and eighth button holes

My first button hole was terrible. First of all it was not a frame of sewn edges.  It was a garbled mass of threads that didn’t look anything like a hole at all. The Ted and fourth (not pictured) were garbled and not really square or even obviously rectangular.   My fourth and fifth were heavy handed: a lot of thread and bunched fabric.  Not very pretty at all. But they were recognizably better.   The seventh was square.  By the eighth buttonhole, I was… still not a master. But the hole was recognizably a button hole.  Maybe a bit large, but still a buttonhole.

The finished Komebukuro is not as elegant as I’d like.  I think I should have used a cord, as is traditional, rather than a ribbon. And it’s a little small for a lunch box or lunch bag.  But expanding the size of the squares from 7″ to 10″ should take care of that problem.  Don’t you think?

In a program to teach sewing, the Komebukuro should occupy pride of place.  It teaches button-holes, straight sewing, pinning, measuring, measured cutting, the basics of the idea of quilting based in mathematics, and both straight stitches and top stitches.  With colored or patterned fabrics, it can also be used to teach pattern matching and right-sides-together protocols.  In other words, it’s a nice complement to some of the other beginner’s sewing projects I’ve proposed here.  But it’s also clearly the work of a master, as well.

Someone who’s mastered button holes, for example.  Which I promptly used to help make the Viking dice bags.

Dice Bags: Vikings!


What does one do if one has cute fabric suggestive of viking warriors on a rampage, but not very much of such fabric?

Make Dice Bags?

I mean, I suppose they could be bags for a set of runes.  There are 26 runes, or something like that, that are used in the mostly-modern divination sets that people use for a heathen-themed form of fortune-telling or divination.

I had enough fabric for three.  And maybe a half. I’m going to have to be clever with some other fabric to make the other half useful — Maybe I can find some “castle wall” fabric so that the warriors look like they’re standing behind a wall, defending the tower that they’re on top of.  Otherwise, I have a strip of fabric that’s too thin to do anything with.

It wound up being a production day, for the most part.  I produced enough fabric squares in 10″, 8″, 7″, and 4 1/2″ sizes to make three quilts.  I made one of those quilts, beginning to end. Then I found this fabric, and made these three RPG dice-bags, plus the bodies of three other komebukuro.   In list form, that’s:

  • Three dice bags
  • Three komebukuro
  • The squares for three quilts; and
  • finishing one of those quilts

I think I’ll be able to finish at least one other quilt before the weekend; the third will have to wait until next week.  I’ll be showing off both in a post early next week, I think, but a lot depends on the weather and on other aspects of my life coming together.

A fair bit of measuring went into the original design of this bag, but after that it was mostly just straight sewing on the sewing machine. There was a lot of pinning, and a few buttonholes… Buttonholes, man.  I did my first one yesterday — there will be a post about that tomorrow or the next day — and now I’ve done close to twenty.  I still can’t do them very well, but I’m getting better at them.

Costume: Jedi, sorta


I made two Jedi costumes before Christmas-time, as Christmas presents for my cousin’s kids.  I also made a couple of books of secrets that also serve as journals for the older children.  I thought it was a nice division, between silly costume stuff and serious secret stuff.  It should have been a nice division, right?

img_2763Turns out, one of the kids that got a book, wanted a Jedi knight costume too.

So, I spent today with my patterns out, and some white fabric, making another Jedi tunic in a size XXS, and working up another djellaba-style cloak to go with it, both out of fairly simple cotton fabric.  Easy.

The Jedi Tunic is part of the costume pattern set that comes with Simplicity 5840.  They don’t call it A Jedi tunic, but from the way that the characters stand, and the accessories (shoulder armor, cloaks), it’s kind of clear that they’re supposed to be Jedi without violating trademarks and copyrights.

This is not a particularly difficult pattern to make. The ‘front’ is two panels, the back is one panel, each sleeve is one piece.  And then there’s a band around the neck and front and back that is two slips of fabric sewn into one long strip, and then double-folded.  None of the sewing is anything more complicated than straight-seam sewing.  Even the hemming is not difficult with a sewing machine.


The belt is five pieces, including a strip of interfacing.   I added some decorative stitching to the front panel of the belt.

The cloak pattern with Simplicity 5840 is fabric-heavy, though.  Takes seven to eight yards to assemble properly. That’s a lot of fabric to ask a kid to haul around for playtime.  And it winds up being expensive, too.  So I made some adjustments.

The first adjustment I made was to switch from a European cloak pattern to a more-Middle Eastern pattern which in some forms is called a djellaba.  My grandfather came back from a business trip to Saudi in the 1950s or early 1960s wearing a djellaba, which I now own — a bit of ancestor work every time I put it on.

The djellaba is either a very wide piece of fabric with both ends folded into the center, and sewn along one edge; or folding the fabric end to end, cutting a hole in the middle for the neck and head, slicing down the middle of one side to create the open front, and sewing the selvages shut except for wrist holes.  Which is what I did here — it uses less fabric, it’s less weighty and elaborate than a full-circle European cloak with sleeves, and it’s probably more useful for playtime for kids.

Baby Quilts


This is the first time I’ve ever made quilts in sewing work (I try to avoid typing “sewer”, because you as the reader never know how to pronounce that, I’d I’d rather you thought of me as someone who sews rather than something that transports filth).

img_2312I’ve been making a pair of baby quilts for two friends of mine (technically two pairs of friends), who have recently had babies. The first blanket has already gone to the loving home of the happy but tired parents; the second will probably be delivered this weekend.  These quilts had their origins in two rolls of fabric squares that I bought at IKEA several years ago, and only found again while packing up my things to move.  These fabrics are normally used for quilts — bright colors, interesting patterns, natural materials… and already cut in squares.  Perfect!

Quilt assembly is not particularly complicated. Straight seams work, mostly — sew five or six squares together to form a column; sew five or six columns; sew the columns together in rows; press the seams flat regularly; trim/pink with shears periodically.

img_2316The quilt front is then paired with a parallel back panel, usually a single sheet of fabric. Between them is a panel of a material called ‘batting’ — a dense felt of natural cotton or wool intended to serve as a warming layer.

These three layers are then quilted together.  Quilting, technically, is the name given to the process of stitching these three layers of fabric together; the ornamental squares on the top, the batting i the middle, and the backing fabric on the bottom.  Some quilting patterns get very fancy; vines and leaves and roses and wings are not uncommon.  My quilting was simply big squares, following the rough outlines of the squares of the front side of the quilt.

img_2319I ran into my share of challenges. At one point, the timing of my sewing machine came undone. This is probably the most serious set of troubles a sewing machine can have. Fortunately, the YouTube provided me with a set of guidelines and how-to videos on how to fix the timing. Replacing the needle, as well, provided additional help. The two quilts challenged the limits of my thirty (maybe forty-)year old sewing machine, as the layers became thicker. I had a lot of occasions when I had to cut and rip stitches out, and replace them.

img_2320But…  Gradually, things did come together. First of all, someone introduced me to pre-made quilt binding. The edges of a quilt have to be ‘bound’ with a tape of some kind, usually fabric of a solid color that’s been fed through a bias-tape maker, a little device that nominally takes a narrow strip of fabric and folds it in on itself twice to make a sort of tube that clamps around the sides of the three layers of fabric that make up the main body of the quilt. The bias tape hides the interior guts of the quilt, and finishes the edges.

I had never wanted to make a quilt before, because the task of making the quilt binding for the edge seemed so daunting. But then someone told me that you can buy pre-made quilt binding. What a revelation! It made everything so much easier! Instead of fumbling with the stupid little doohickey, I could just spend my time pinning the bias tape (also called quilt binding), and sew!

I finished the second quilt with this gray quilt binding that you see at the right.  And that quilt is now done — this funny, bright, crazy color of the front side, and this red vine pattern with gray binding on the edges to complete the quilt.

Done.  Two quilts, something like four or five days of partial effort.  A lot of straight seams, a lot of planning and thinking and a fair bit of seam-ripping and cursing.  Quilts, especially the first two, do not come easily.

img_2381But neither are they particularly hard, either. I mean, there’s one long (long) seam for the quilt binding/bias tape. There’s (in this second case) eleven straight seams from one side of the quilt to the other, six in one direction and five in the other. There’s a number of crazy seams in assembling the blocks of the front side of the quilt — but even there, the quilt is six squares by five squares: that means there are five seams in each row of six, and four in each column of five. Even allowing for some seam-ripping and errata, there’s something like thirty seams, all straight, in the front side of a baby quilt of simple squares.

And simply put, it’s magic. This will keep a baby warm through the winter, possibly for several years.  IT will pass into a family’s treasured heirlooms after a while; or maybe get passed on to another family, to keep another infant warm for thirty months; and then another.  It will cycle through the wash numerous times, becoming softer and more flexible and useful.  It will ever bear the marks of its hand-made-ness, an expression of practical love and care and concern.

And it is well within the capacities of the average Maker program to teach a group of students to churn out three or four quilts a year — and the students will learn to sew, besides keeping infants warm and parents less concerned.



Banners in process

I’m a member of the Druidical Order of the Golden Dawn. It’s a druidic society, based on the book by John Michael Greer, The Celtic Golden Dawn. I’ve been gradually working my way through the curriculum, which involves meditation, alchemy or spagyrics using locally-common plants, some ritual, and some divination using Geomancy. There are some side exercises as well, but those are the main components of the work.

One of the elements that makes up a temple of the DOGD are a pair of banners, the banners of the East and of the West, which are black and white, and adorned with a stylized dolmen or three-stone archway and three rays of light emanating from those arches; the white banner of the East additionally has two squares, a yellow and green one, laid at 45°-angles to one another forming an 8-pointed star.  I’ve been using paper printouts of the images of the banners, but I haven’t been entirely happy with them.

Re-sizing the squares

So I made them in fabric, using tutorials on appliqué and sewing, as well as my own basic sewing knowledge.  The result is a pair of very handsome banners.  Each needs a cord to string them from a post or hook on the wall, still; but I need to get the cord since I don’t currently have it; and I’m going to need to install some grommets for the cord (thanks, Matt).  I think I now need to build a couple of stands to support them, as well, so I don’t drive hooks into the wall.

Each banner involved roughly the same process — I made paper templates of each piece, using freezer paper.  Freezer paper is stiff and waxy, which means that it can be used to create a paper template for each piece.  It looks like you can use the waxy side to glue your paper directly to the fabric with an iron.  I was reluctant to do that, though; so I simply used my freezer paper as if it was a paper pattern.

Initially I made the two dolmens the same size. Then I realized, if I do that, then the squares on the white banner have to be larger than the banner. So I had to re-size the squares, and then redesign the dolmen to match, wasting my initial dolmen; I couldn’t figure out how to re-size it to accommodate the overall design.  Nothing for it but to toss it in the scrap heap for another day. Alas.

I first made all my pieces. Then I ironed them, and folded over their tabs and edges as I did so.  And then I sewed them onto the background panel of each banner, pinning each to try to get it flat and unwrinkled.  I failed to get them flat and unwrinkled.  I am not a patient tailor or textile worker or seamster, apparently.  I want to get projects finished and feel like they’re done.  I also like the sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing, and not having yet-another-unfinished project languishing around.  There’s something to be said for just getting it done.

A typical Dolmen assembly

Every piece of appliqué has to have tabs, to fold behind the shape.  You have to design the tabs for each piece so that every edge is folded, and nothing can unravel.  For the triangles that are the rays of light, this mostly means making larger triangles, or something like trapezoidal diamonds.  Even so, they don’t fold well.

Here’s how I made the dolmens.  You can see that the top edge is one long fold, with cut corners so that it doesn’t overlap with too many other things.  The uprights of the dolmens equally have tabs, as do the overhangs of the lintels, including the middle part of the lintel.  There has to be a tab on each side, of course, because fabric has warp and weft.  It will unravel without a fold, even if you sew it down; and then your lovely appliqué will come undone quite rapidly (everything done with green thread on my banner of the east will have to be additionally tacked down again, by hand, because the tensioning on the sewing machine was wrong, and the stitches are coming undone already).


The finished banners

Once the imagery of each banner was finished, I flipped the backing material over, so the imagery was on the inside.  I then sewed the backing together, adding in the yellow tassels at the corners of the lower part of the banners. The resulting object is like a rather shapeless bag.  One corner of this inside-out bag is left open, and the bag is then turned — the outside/imagery/appliqué side is pulled through the open hole, and the whole banner is flattened, resulting in a banner shape that has folds all around the edges — remember how important it is to have a fold in a piece of fabric, to prevent it from unraveling? This is as true for background pieces as for appliqué.   The mostly-finished banner then needs to be pressed and maybe top-stitched — run through the sewing machine all around the outside edge to create a neat seam that flattens and stabilizes the banner all around.  It could also be quilted in order to stiffen it, and give it some sturdiness that I didn’t introduce through the use of interfacing — a sort of papery-plastic-like material that comes with glue on it, so you can glue it to a completed appliqué on the back, and stabilize the project.  Interfacing is also used in tailoring to stiffen collars and shirt cuffs, and other parts of clothes, to give them sturdiness and stability.  I’ll see in the morning if it needs that extra step of top-stitching and/or quilting.

However, these banners are essentially done.  They’ve done three jobs for me: spruced up my druidic training regimen by giving me something to look at while I’m working; taught me the basics of appliqué; and used up some of my fabric stash.  The using up of a fabric stash should not be under-estimated.  It’s very easy to build up a supply of fabric, and not so easy to let it go to its finished, intended use.

Although I had the initial plan for these banners dictated for me by the organization to which I belong, I have to admit, these make a very nice school project.  Every object or color on an appliqué has to be thought about separately, and they have to be united through folds in the fabric, and through stitching together.  Both of the squares on the white banner, for example, are about three times as wide as in the final example; they’re folded over themselves in order to make clean corners.  The green square is also cut in four places, so that it can be interleaved with the yellow square (which is actually un-cut at all, and runs under the green square’s pieces.  I’m looking forward to doing this kind of work again.

Thirty Days of Making: Most of a Shirt


I’m in Day 13 of a short series: Thirty Days of Making. Every day for the next thirty days, I intend to make something, anything, that is in some way connected to school. There won’t always be pictures, and I reserve the right to credit myself for things that I help my kids make. But I’ve decided that I need thirty days of maker success and maker failure under my belt to be a better designer.

I’ve decided that artwork counts, but not writing (unless it’s part of the art, like calligraphy). Digital work counts, but it has to be useful or publishable.

Some days there will be pictures, some days there won’t be. Each blog entry will contain a list of some of the materials and tools, a quick review of the success or failure of the Making, and a reflection on what I think I learned from the endeavor.  (My friend Alicia is beginning a new series along these lines, 12 weeks of the Artist’s Way — I wish her well in her process, go check her out!).

Reason for the Project: “Textile Engineering Class”

On Tuesday afternoons, I run a class that’s called “Textile Engineering, but which is in essence a class in basic sewing.  There are three kids in the class, and frankly if there were any more, I would be completely overwhelmed.  As it is, we’re making a lot of mistakes together, every week, because I can’t look over three shoulders at the same time — kids are working on different projects, and they need different kinds of support in different parts of the process. We also have two kids who are a little more advanced, but in different ways; and one who’s basically a beginner.  So there’s three kids, all in need of varying levels of support and attention, and then there’s me.

Clearly I need more practice.

Process and Result:

A dinner I was hosting had to be postponed tonight, so I went over to school with my cut fabric from a week or so ago, my pattern envelope (Simplicity pattern # 3758), and the instructions.  My colleague S. had talked me through the process of assembling this pattern on Wednesday, and I felt that I was ready.  I laid out the front of the shirt, and started assembling pieces as I’d been directed.  Or more specifically, as I thought I’d been directed last Wednesday.  I should have taken notes.  I should have made a recording of her talking.  I should have made a movie of her interpreting the directions on the pattern.

Sewing experiment

forgot to hem the bottom.

I should have waited until week after next, actually.  Then she could have walked me through the process from beginning to end, and I wouldn’t feel like a moron.

I think I made about sixty-three major mistakes, and numerous mistakes that are minor on the surface, but actually result in me failing to assemble the shirt the way it’s supposed to look.  I kept breaking my gather stitches, for example.  Gather lines are a pair of loosely-sewn-in stitches designed to create those really nice lines of pinches along a seam in a really beautiful shirt or blouse. They’re miniature pleats, in essence.  And they’re made by creating two of these lines of loose stitches, and then pulling them ever so gently to form perfect mini-pleats.  I must have broken about twenty gather lines, damaging the fabric a little more every time I pulled them out.

After about ten times, I gave up.  I thought to myself, “if I never get past the gather lines, I’m never going to learn how to make the whole shirt.  And I’m going to look like a moron to my students.  And I don’t want that, either.”  So I decided I would keep going, regardless, until I had the sleeves on.  Mistakes, errors, stupid placement of the sewing machine needle, whatever.  Keep going.

And I did.  I kept going.  My friend Daniel says, “Build the whole prototype. That way you know what your other serious mistakes are going to be.”  He builds very fancy medical devices that cost thousands of dollars.  I’m trying to assemble a shirt for a halloween costume.  He has months of design time.  I have weeks. Days, really.  I can do this.

I get the gathers assembled.  The yoke of the shirt.  The collar pieces, sewn front to front, with the insides on the outside. Flip the collar inside out.  Wow, attaching a collar to a shirt is hard.  Wow, I’ve made a mess of this… wow. I ripped the yoke of the shirt.

Sleeves. More gathers here.  Oops, looks like I marked my pattern incorrectly the first time.  And the second time.  The assembly dots are in the wrong places.  Ooops.  This sleeve hangs weird.  Ok, now the other sleeve hangs weird in a completely different way.  These sleeves are poofy. They’re not Seinfeld on the Tonight Show poofy, but they’re poofy.  This shirt is not really very flattering to me, is it?  I mean, even if it were assembled properly, it wouldn’t be very flattering.  Sew up the sides.

Done. For now.

Sewing experiment

Look, gathered sleeves and yoke! (Don’t look closely)

So now, I have a shirt. That I made. That looks terrible on me. That can’t really be fixed or improved in its current form, and still needs cuffs for these dumb poofy sleeves. Go me.  It is without doubt the worst shirt I will ever make.

Because the next one will have none of the mistakes of this one.  It will have a completely new set of mistakes.

Reflection on My Learning

I kid, of course, about the next shirt having a completely new set of mistakes. I’m fairly sure I will repeat all of the mistakes of this shirt at least once. But spread over the next three or four sewing projects, rather than all in the same project.

Let’s see, what have I learned?

  • How to gather sleeves and yokes of shirts
  • How to mark a pattern, incorrectly
  • Why a pattern has to be transferred accurately
  • How to transfer a pattern accurately
  • How to cut fabric to leave markers for correct assembly
  • How to read patterns
  • How to unjam the sewing machine
  • How to re-thread the bobbin on three different sewing machines
  • how to replace the needle on three different sewing machines
  • How to pin cloth together for garment sewing
  • What happens when you pin cloth incorrectly
  • What happens when you mis-assemble the collar of a shirt
  • What happens when you try to fix it by pulling (a big rip)
  • How to assemble a sleeve correctly
  • What happens when you don’t
  • How to sew the side-seam of a shirt correctly
  • What happens when you don’t.

See? Learning.

Reflections on General Learning

The fact that I made a LOT of mistakes in the course of assembling this project is actually a boon.  I now have a much better understanding of what my students are going through, and I have a whole host of new techniques that I can use to help them solve their problems.  I understand a good many mistakes that beginning pattern-sewers make, and I have a sense of how to teach people to avoid some of those frustrations in the future.  I’m incredibly excited that I decided to say “Just do it” to this project, and not wait for more experienced hands, eyes, and minds to watch over my shoulder, preventing me from doing stupid things. I NEEDED to do the stupid things in order to be a more effective sewing teacher.

There’s a kind of mathematics knowledge that middle school math teachers gradually acquire. Mathematicians don’t need it, and they would be bemused to know that it exists.  It’s called by its own acronym — MKFT, or Math Knowledge For Teachers.  It’s when the teacher asks, “What’s the answer to problem #5, and everybody says, ’12’ but you and the kid in the back row say ‘7’.  The teacher knows at that point that you both divided in the last step, or didn’t follow PEMDAS rules, or didn’t calculate the exponent properly. The math teacher with MKFT knows what mistake you made because he knows what the answer would be if you made a specific mistake.

And I feel like I acquired some of that knowledge as a beginning tailor today.  I have a better sense of what things go wrong, and how to fix them when they happen.  Woo.

I wish I had a nice shirt I could wear for some event other than an hour or two at Halloween, though.  Given a choice between one and the other, I guess I needed the Sewing Knowledge more for my day job, but I wanted the shirt.


Three out of five stars.  I got a lot of learning out of the project, and I benefitted enormously from the working through of some of the common errors.  Now I know what mistakes to be on guard against in garment sewing, and I know how I’m going to fix this shirt when (if? no, when) I try again to make it.  I’m just glad I didn’t try to make it out of any sort of fancy fabric.  This would have been harder had I known I was going to wind up ruining it in the process of making it.  As it is, I’m now thinking about going as the “Fear of Failure Monster” for Halloween.

Thirty Days of Making: More Bags


I’m in Day 8 of a short series: Thirty Days of Making. Every day for the next thirty days, I intend to make something, anything, that is in some way connected to school. There won’t always be pictures, and I reserve the right to credit myself for things that I help my kids make. But I’ve decided that I need thirty days of maker success and maker failure under my belt to be a better designer.

I’ve decided that artwork counts, but not writing (unless it’s part of the art, like calligraphy). Digital work counts, but it has to be useful or publishable.

Some days there will be pictures, some days there won’t be. Each blog entryThirty days of making: drawstring bags will contain a list of some of the materials and tools, a quick review of the success or failure of the Making, and a reflection on what i think i learned from the endeavor.

Reason for the Project:

I have sewing class this afternoon with three students.  I wanted to have the parts for my shirt cut out, but I haven’t been anywhere close to having the time to iron the fabric or iron the pattern pieces. Most frustrating. But I did want to have some things made, to show the students in the class how to use scrap pieces of fabric to make other things besides cut-up bits of fabric for stuffing of pillows and animals and suchlike.

So I made some more drawstring bags today, in a variety of styles, in order to showcase the range of possibilities from finished to unfinished.  In all, I made a total of five drawstring bags today, two without drawstrings at all, and three with drawstrings; two long skinny ones, and three squarish ones (the four shown beside yesterday’s big bag are four of the five I completed today; the fifth wasn’t done at the time I took the photograph.

Process and Results

The resulting bags are, I think, not particularly elegant.  But neither are they entirely slap-dash, either.Thirty days of making: drawstring bags I wish I’d had better ribbon or thread for the drawstrings, but the fabric itself is pretty nice.  All the bags illustrate nicely the importance of having a ‘stash’ or cache of materials from which to draw construction materials — it’s hard to build bags if you have to go to the store every time.  As it is, I’ve learned the importance of stocking thread in various colors and weights to go with the machine.  I only had black and white thread for these projects, and the black thread in particular is very noticeable, at least up front.  In the photos, it doesn’t show so much; but believe me, it’s there.

So, I now have six or seven bags to show to my students this afternoon, and show them a variety of ways of making such bags.  I think my next step is to make myself a lunch bag.  My lunch usually comes to school in two standard-sized plastic containers, a roll for bamboo utensils, and space for an apple.  I should really make a bag to hold those items in one, maybe with a shoulder strap, as well.  It would be a good project, and illustrate to students the possibilities that sewing makes possible.  Maybe it could even have a matching napkin!

Reflection on My Learning

I think that one of the key takeaways for me is the degree to which making something immediately raises the possibility of making more things.  I made one big bag — not well, but well enough — and then almost immediately I thought to turn my scraps into a half-dozen more bags of varying sizes (there certainly weren’t enough scraps left to do anything else).  I scavenged materials from other projects (the ribbon) in order to finish the main project of the day.  Working through the smaller projects raised the possibility of larger projects — making these small bags made me realize that I know how to make belt pouches for my halloween costumes and Renaissance fair projects, and how to make a lunch bag, and how to make any one of a dozen other small things.  As Tess from Beehive Sewing said to me, “The goal of this studio is to make more sewing enthusiasts,” because that not only means more customers coming to her shop, but it also means a greater likelihood that fabric stores and sewing machine manufacturers and more will stay in business. This is about forming constellations of skill in a community.  If I teach six or seven other people how to sew at least as well as I do, and some of them get better than me at this skill, then we have a range of tailors and seamstresses and seamsters ready to call upon to complete almost any project.  And I like that idea.

Reflections on Learning in General

I think the real challenge is getting kids through three or four similar projects, to the point where the next few projects begin to appear over the horizon to them, and they know how to proceed on their own.  I know I’m almost there — but I’ve got forty years of prior experience on most of my students to draw on (and perhaps some other, Supernatural, assistance, as the wise may know), and six months of prior coached experience as a sewing enthusiast. Some of this is beginning to come to me naturally. It won’t come as naturally to them, at least not yet. Not until they’ve run through a few projects in a very guided, direct way.


Four out of five stars.  It was important for my learning to repeat the same project a few times, in order to see what could be learned from repetition.   And the answer is, quite a lot.  But just because it was a useful exercise doesn’t mean that I actually challenged myself in any way.  I didn’t.  These were lickety-split projects — my biggest challenge was having to rethread the Design Lab sewing machine.

On the other hand, I immediately gave out most of my bags to colleagues, so there was an immediate dividend to the Design Lab.  Here was a product of the Design Lab that they could hold in their hands, and see as a complete and finished project, and they could understand that kids who went through a Design Lab experience would become more competent seamsters/seamstresses as a result of the training I could provide.  That’s a bonus.  When they, the studentsstart making stuff on their own and giving it away to teachers and parents, then we’re on the right track to something amazing, I think.

Older Entries